OSS Instagram Editor Laura Sanderson is also the SAS regional representative for Snowdonia Beach Clean. On the 6th April she will be highlighting the issue of plastics in rivers by swimming the Afon Glaslyn in Snowdonia from Source to Sea. The journey will involve swimming the 26km stretch of river from the highest point Llyn Glaslyn on Snowdon, down to the sea. Here she tells the story of summit to sea plastic pollution, and what swimmers and regional swim groups are doing to help
Swimming in rivers, lakes and seas enables an unrivalled closeness to watery environments. For some, this means catching sight of a kingfisher or bathing with seals. For the OSS Thames Group, it has meant pulling a semi-submerged rental bike from the riverbed, collecting floating plastic bottles and retrieving a deflating balloon.
The group found these items during a river clean of the Thames from Port Meadow to the centre of Oxford. As member Jeremy Wellingham describes: “We had three swimmers collecting litter and two kayakers, who bagged it up and transported it for disposal. As well as plastic bottles and takeaway packaging there were a couple of bicycles, an office chair, shoe, cycle helmet and a balloon!”
The initiative reflects the growing movement for a more holistic response to the plastics crisis in our oceans. Microplastics have been found in the UK’s lakes, lochs, rivers and coastlines – including iconic swimming spots such as Ullswater in the Lake District and Loch Lomond.
This is why the Outdoor Swimming Society has partnered with Surfers Against Sewage to tackle this issue for the SAS Big Spring Beach Clean: Summit to Sea. “Evidence shows that over 70% of plastic pollution comes from the land, meaning that we can all be beach clean volunteers wherever we are,” says Jack Middleton, SAS Community Manager. “Through expanding into rivers and inland waterways, we hope to engage a wide range of people to take part in protecting the ocean from summit to sea.”
“Evidence shows that over 70% of plastic pollution comes from the land, meaning that we can all be beach clean volunteers wherever we are. Through expanding into rivers and inland waterways, we hope to engage a wide range of people to take part in protecting the ocean from summit to sea.”
The event, taking place between 6th-16th April, aims to get people picking up litter in their local communities and along waterways from source to sea. So far, more than 400 events have been registered across the UK from mountain tops to beachfronts and inland waterways to busy streets.
Lakes and rivers become contaminated when plastic rubbish blows into them and, over time, is broken down into smaller microparticles. Swimmers are no strangers to plastic waste in waterways. As Rebecca Ward from swim group Wiltshire Wild Swimmers says: “Swimming in the River Avon I am always finding single-use plastic bottles that have been blown into the reeds and then float down stream. I have even found crisp packets dating back to the early 1980s – still intact!”
Dr Christian Dunn is Associate Director of the Bangor Wetlands Group at Bangor University and the SAS representative for Chester. His team carried out research on microplastics with Friends of the Earth. “It was more than a little startling to discover microplastics were present in even the most remote sites we tested and quite depressing they were in some of our country’s most iconic locations,” he says. “I’m sure Wordsworth would not be happy to discover his beloved Ullswater was polluted with plastic. We have to start taking the issue of plastic in our inland waters seriously.”
“I’m sure Wordsworth would not be happy to discover his beloved Ullswater was polluted with plastic. We have to start taking the issue of plastic in our inland waters seriously.”
The worst spot for contamination was the River Tame in Greater Manchester, with 1,000 pieces of plastic per litre, followed by the River Irwell in Salford, with 84.8 pieces. In Scotland, the Falls of Dochart in the Trossachs National Park had 3.3 pieces per litre, while Loch Lomond contained 2.4 pieces. In Wales, Llyn Cefni reservoir on Anglesey had 43.2 pieces of microplastics per litre.
Christian adds: “As with all emerging contaminants, we don’t yet fully know the dangers they present to wildlife and ecosystems, or even human health, and to what levels they occur in all our water systems”.
As an OSS team member and SAS regional representative for Snowdonia Beach Clean, I will be highlighting this issue by swimming the Afon Glaslyn in Snowdonia from Source to Sea on 6th April along with Ruth Bulleyment and Danielle Hicks. The journey will involve swimming the 26km stretch of river from the highest point Llyn Glaslyn on Snowdon, down to the sea.
Along the route we will be collecting plastic and debris that has entered the waterways as well as carrying out a river community clean up as we pass through the villages of Beddgelert and Porthmadog. The aim of the swim is to track levels of plastic pollution from source to sea as the waterway passes through populated areas and to highlight this issue within the local community. We will be collecting water samples throughout the swim to be tested at the laboratory at Bangor University. As Christian says: “This research will give us a greater understanding of levels of microplastics through a water catchment system”.
As for the Thames group, the logistics of the group’s “swim cleans” are still being developed – next time a canoe will be used for increased capacity, while sorting and transferring items for either recycling or disposal. As Jeremy says, “We’re learning as we go!”
With thanks to Joanne Hazell for additional research